Can incumbent Commissioner Colin Sharman pull out yet another big win?
Monday, February 15, 2021
"I want to make sure we maintain the family-friendly feel of the city."
Running for his sixth term, District 4 Commissioner Colin Sharman, 45, refuses to rest on his laurels, though he could put his feet up if he chose. When I asked him during our interview at Winter Garden City Hall what he was most proud of doing during his tenure, Sharman actually pulled out a list of favorite projects.
The commissioner, who won his seat at the tender age of 30, opened the first fire station in District 4. He established Braddock Park, the first park in District 4. “I wanted to make sure we had plenty of open space and that not everything was developed,” he says.
Sharman also helped establish Tucker Ranch, the 290-acre park and nature preserve off of Avalon Road and Hwy. 50 where there's biking, hiking, a canoe and kayak launch, a playground and where eventually there will be a working farm and health and wellness center that focuses on physical and emotional health. “It’s one of my pet projects,” he says.
The commissioner also worked on the Hwy. 50 “beautification project,” which installed landscaped medians in the left-turn lanes. The project improves the road's aesthetics, and prevents drivers from randomly turning left as they please. “It’s a state road, but the city coughed up the money for the median, the landscaping and maintaining the landscaping. I’m proud of that.”
Raised in Kissimmee, Sharman attended Osceola High School and began working as an air-conditioning technician. He went through the apprenticeship program at Trane, the heating and air-conditioning company, and moved up the corporate ladder through sales to account manager. He and his wife Cyndi settled down in Winter Garden, he says, because she came from Clermont and it was equidistant to both families and his job. Sharman is father to a son, a stepson and grandfather to two boys.
In early February, I sat down with Sharman, masks on and six feet apart, in the City Hall Chambers where commission meetings are held — and where Sharman recently donated and installed bipolar ionization technology that neutralizes pathogens and allergens — to talk about what he’s done, what he still wants to do if re-elected, and leading by example through the coronavirus pandemic.
Norine Dworkin: You’ve been on the city commission for 15 years. What initially drew you to politics?
Colin Sharman: When Winter Garden Village was being built, we got a flyer from one of our neighbors: Hey, they’re building this huge shopping center right next to your house with a movie theatre and all these big box stores. The initial plans had the big box stores next to our house, and we were concerned about having a movie theatre with kids hanging out there.
So I went to the Planning & Zoning board meeting and then went to every commission meeting subsequent to that. Some of our neighbors came, along with people from our side of town. And for six months we went back and forth with the developer to get the mall size reduced. Some people just didn’t want it; some people wanted big changes. One of the biggest changes was that they moved the big box stores closer to the 429 Highway, away from the neighborhood. That was a big concession.
But that’s when I realized District 4 didn’t have any real representation. I remember when I was a kid going to a commission meeting with my mother because they were going to put a one way street in front of my house. One of my neighbors said, “The only way we’re going to make a difference is if someone runs.” So I said, OK, I need to run. I actually ran for mayor and lost in 2006. But I had enough support that when the commission seat came up, I was easily able to win it.
ND: What are your priorities should you win a sixth term?
CS: One of my goals is to add a second fire station. I added the first on Daniels Road and am working on a second fire station off of Marsh Road. We have purchased the land. We just need to get it built.
I also want to work on a southern trail extension. The commission, together with the city and Orange County is planning to add an extension of the existing trail system in District 4. It will run along Stoneybrook Parkway from Tiny Road to Winter Garden Vineland Road, connecting to the existing trail that runs from the Winter Garden Village to the turnpike. Eventually, it will connect to the West Orange Trail.
Another thing that’s important to me, I fought against a development that was going into the county where there were going to be too many homes, too tight together. The city manager and the staff and I went down to the county meeting on it, and we opposed the number of homes that close together. Ultimately that area ended up getting incorporated into the city of Winter Garden, and the residents were happy that the city reduced the number of homes per acre and made the development less dense. That’s something I want to continue to do.
Most of the lots and land in Winter Garden have already been planned for development and have already been through the commission. There are no more big, new, empty lots to be developed. So if someone is like I’m going to stop development in Winter Garden, it’s done and planned. I’ve been part of the smart development plan we’ve had. That was one of my priorities. Mission accomplished. Now, it’s revitalization and making sure as we redevelop, we do it right. For instance, we have a master plan to revitalize Plant Street all the way to Ocoee. And Ocoee has a master plan coming the other direction. It’s not something that’s in my district, but it’s something I think is important to the city.
ND: So, what do you see as the biggest issues facing Winter Garden?
CS: We need more parking downtown. There is a spot that’s becoming a parking lot first. We’re buying some land, and it’s on the north side of Plant Street. Ultimately that could become a parking garage. We’ve got plans for additional parking over on the west side near the ball fields. It’s important that we follow through with that.
The other thing is keeping that family-friendly, small-town feel. We’re going to continue to grow a little bit. Things are going to get redeveloped. We need to make sure we keep that feel that we have now, and that we don’t lose it.
ND: Can you do anything to prevent chain restaurants and stores from coming in and competing with our locally grown businesses?
CS: I would love to have more mom-and-pop restaurants and family-owned restaurants. Unfortunately, the city commission can’t choose the business owner. We’re restricted to limiting what type of development could be built and restrictions on aesthetics. We can’t say, You’re not family-owned … We don’t have that power to do that. My wife comments all the time, What? We’re getting another chicken place? It’s the building owners decision ultimately in the end.
ND: What can the Winter Garden City Commission do in terms of protecting Winter Garden residents from Covid-19? Infectious disease specialists have warned that we’re not going to be able to vaccinate our way out of the pandemic. There are multiple variants circling; the virus is developing resistance to the vaccine faster than anticipated. The commissioners like to tout that no businesses have been lost to Covid-19, but meanwhile, in Winter Garden, our caseload numbers are going up. We have the “Love Local” campaign, which encourages mask-wearing and social distancing. But there’s even a commissioner who refuses to wear a mask while in city commission meetings.
CS: If we were going to go to the extreme, to be totally safe, then you and I shouldn’t have been meeting today or fist-bumping. But we have to live in reality so we have to find a compromise. Personally, I’m a germaphobe, so I’m constantly hand-washing. Can we step in and be everybody’s parent in the city? No. At some point, we have to let the people be adults. Can we set a good example? Yes. I like to set the example.
Some of the positive things the city has done is to expand the outdoor dining, so we set an example that way. I’ve said the biggest risk for catching Covid-19 is indoor dining without a mask because you’re talking, you’re spitting. Unfortunately, the governor has said we can’t restrict those businesses, so there’s a challenge. It’s not like the city can say This is what we recommend... We’re hoping people are smart and that they choose to sit outside when they go to an establishment. Or at least that the place has significant distancing if they can’t have outside dining. I‘m doing takeout and delivery. I’m still supporting local business.
I won’t let my wife’s parents or my parents dine anywhere in public because they’re in a high-risk group. I would advise the same for anyone who’s a cancer survivor or who has a low immune system or anyone in a high-risk group; those are the ones who are getting severely ill and dying*. Then you have the younger people who were in denial and ignoring it until someone they knew got sick. I have personally known someone who’s died from it and someone who had symptoms for a day and someone who was asymptomatic. You can see that the fringe thinks everyone is asymptomatic and it’s not a big deal, or that it’s like the flu. It’s challenging.
There are people who don’t live in reality. I live in the middle. I try to see perspectives on both sides. I understand if you push, you push people who aren’t on the fringe in that direction. That’s why we have to be cautious about our approach. We need to set an example. We’ve got to urge people in high-risk groups not to do activities [that put them at risk.] If we push too hard, there are these personalities that will spite you and make it worse. My personal opinion is that I lead by example, as I’ve done.
*Beyond underlying health conditions, additional factors can put people at risk for Covid-19, including age, smoking, gender, obesity, pregnancy, certain medications, work environment, race/ethnicity, poverty and overcrowding, according to the CDC.